August 27, 2009

Standing on the wrong side of history

Navy Lieutenant First Grade Nancy Gadian stirred a hornet’s nest when she accused retired Lt. General Eugenio Cedo and other senior officers of corrupt misuse of Balikatan funds in 2007. After winning a protective writ of amparo from the Court of Appeals and being given sanctuary by intrepid nuns she faded from newspaper headlines.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sustained a propaganda blitz clearing General Cedo and others of malfeasance and claiming that Lt. Gadian’s charges were baseless; the diminutive whistleblower appeared unable to keep up tit-for-tat.

And the public, accustomed to all sorts of corruption scandals under the Arroyo regime, thought that was that.

This time around Lt. Gadian, recipient of several commendations and medals, has delivered an even more explosive revelation: detailed testimony on the virtual basing and combat role of US military forces in the country. Ironically, the refusal of the military top brass and their Commander-in-Chief to investigate the endemic corruption in the AFP has laid the ground for the first Filipino officer, a woman at that, to come out with what she knows about another “well-kept secret” of the Arroyo regime and the US government.

Ms. Gadian’s damaging revelations come in the wake of a recent New York Times report citing Pentagon sources that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates “decided to keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines.” The decision was made reportedly after Mr. Gates and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Panetta visited the Philippines last June as a prelude to the July 31 White House meeting of US President Obama and Mrs. Arroyo and the August visit of Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of American forces in the Pacific.

The NYT describes Special Operations Forces as “the most highly skilled in the military at capture-and-kill missions against insurgent and terrorist leaders. Within their ranks, Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, have for decades been training allied troops on their home soil and conducting counterinsurgency missions.” More specifically, the article cited senior officials saying that the SOF and CIA were “instrumental in successes by the Filipino armed forces in killing and capturing leaders of the militant (sic) group Abu Sayaff and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ...”

Lt. Gadian spoke of joint military meetings she attended where US officers conducted briefings including combat intelligence information on the ASG and MILF. This corroborates the boast of Pentagon officials regarding the critical US role in combat operations against the two groups, short of spelling out that US soldiers join actual combat missions.

Lt. Gadian testified to persistent reports she had received that US soldiers were “embedded” in AFP combat units. These soldiers, she stressed, are invariably elite members of the US Special Operations Command, the same forces described by the NYT article.

Ms. Gadian also confirmed that the US forces often plan and undertake various operations without the knowledge of their Philippine counterparts, including the Filipino overall commander under which they are supposedly operating. This is patently unconstitutional and violates even the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other US-RP military agreements.

Even the infrastructure projects carried out by US troops and the medical-dental missions they conduct are clearly for counter-insurgency purposes contrary to the usual government and US embassy press releases that these merely underscore and reinforce the continuing “good relations” between the two countries.

Unnamed officials spoke of pressure on the Pentagon to shift the JSOTFP to Afghanistan or Iraq. This is a clear indication that US forces are overstretched and unable to simultaneously wage and quickly win wars in two global regions as envisioned in the US neoconservatives' "Project New American Century" under Pres. George W. Bush . The decision to maintain the JSOTFP underscores both the strategic and tactical importance of maintaining US military presence in the Philippines and implies that the permanent US presence is both for local as well as global and regional reasons.

Despite the rhetoric of “Change”, the Obama administration is at base continuing the geopolitical thrust of consolidating US hegemony in the world with minor changes in approach and methods, e.g. talking with “rogue states” instead of threatening them with preemptive first strike option, without necessarily giving up that option. This includes continuing and strengthening US military presence overseas.

Specific to the Philippines, this translates to increasing military aid and so-called training exercises and permanent US military presence as exemplified by the JSOTFP deployment and forward operating sites in Mindanao despite the 1991 Philippine Senate decision to terminate the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.

This is indeed reassuring news for Mrs. Arroyo because it opens the door for more quid pro quo between the Obama and Arroyo regimes. Remember when Mrs. Arroyo kept trailing Mr. Obama’s shadow even when he was just the Democratic presidential candidate, more so when he became US president, but couldn’t even get close to a handshake much less a photo-op?

Hopeful Filipinos thought this indicated that the new US president, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Bush, would indeed usher in a new era of a more enlightened foreign policy. Surely Mr. Obama had heard of Mrs. Arroyo’s shameful and bloody record as an illegitimate and despised ruler and would act accordingly.

Thus for many, it was with extreme disappointment that they received news of Mr. Obama’s personal phone call to Mrs. Arroyo last year in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling citing as unconstitutional US custody of US Corporal Daniel Smith, convicted rapist of a Filipina. It was obvious that the call was timed to secure a favorable outcome for the US in the judicial and diplomatic impasse.

As we had pointed out in our previous column, there was also more to the lavish dinners in Washington and New York than profligacy and callousness, coming as they did in the wake of the much sought-after audience with Mr. Obama. We believe that the GMA camp was in a euphoric celebratory mood because they felt they had won a most precious and coveted prize -- assurance of continuing US support. But that was not without its price. Doubtless, it was won at the cost of Philippine sovereignty.

For the Filipino people, the signal is that the US is not going to lift a finger to stop or even just rein in its anointed "anti-terrorist" surrogate in the region. When Mr. Obama declared in his inaugural speech “to those leaders around the globe … who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…”, it seems he had not meant he would not be standing by their side.#


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